Today: The Last Two Wisconsin Recalls (For Now)

Today will be the end of the great Wisconsin recall saga – at least for 2011 – with Democratic incumbents Jim Holperin and Robert Wirch facing the voters, though after last week, majority control of the chamber is not at stake.

Wisconsin Democrats, faced with a 19-14 Republican majority in the state Senate, attempted to mount a backlash against Gov. Scott Walker’s anti-public employee union legislation, by recalling their way to a majority. However, they were also hampered by the fact that the only recall-eligible districts were ones where the incumbent had won their terms in 2008, even during that year’s Democratic wave. Last Tuesday, when six Republicans were on the ballot, the Dems picked up two seats, just short of the magic three.

Democrats still hope to go for the big target next year, of recalling Walker himself. For now, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to sustain the kind of political momentum and enthusiasm necessary for that task.Obviously, these remaining races may not carry quite the same drama as last week’s contests, with it no longer being possible that majority control could flip. But today, Dems will have to consolidate even those gains, for a new Republican majority of just 17-16, or be busted back down to the 19-14 margin that existed at the start of the year before they went for the massive, tens-of-millions of dollars effort to try to win the Senate.

Surveys this past weekend from Public Policy Polling (D), commissioned by Daily Kos, gave both Holperin and Wirch double-digit leads over their opponents. An obvious caveat is that these recall elections have been very unusual, lacking a normal statistical model to make projections, and are thus difficult to poll. With that said, PPP’s pre-election polls for last week’s races were all within a few points of the actual results — thus making these new numbers a credible estimate.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s rankings of the state Senate districts shows, Holperin represents the most Republican-leaning district that is currently held by a Democrat. It voted 57.4%-40.8% for Scott Walker in the Republican wave of 2010, though before that Barack Obama carried it 52.7%-45.7% during the 2008 Democratic wave.

In the recalls last week, GOP state Sen. Dan Kapanke had the “honor” of holding the most Democratic-leaning district held by a Republican. On the one hand, he lost his recall by a 55%-45% margin. On the other hand, his district was even more Democratic-leaning than Holperin’s is Republican-leaning. Kapanke’s former district voted just 49.5%-48.8% for Walker in 2010, and voted for Obama by a whopping 60.8%-37.6% in 2008.

In addition, Holperin’s Republican opponent, conservative activist Kim Simac, has had to deal with some baggage in the race — such as her past remarks comparing public schools to Nazi Germany.

Another fun fact: This is Holperin’s second recall of his political career. Back in 1990, then-state Rep. Holperin faced a recall election in a backlash over the more local issue of newly-reinstated Native American spearfishing rights. Holperin won that election, later went on to be state Tourism Secretary, and in 2008 was narrowly elected to the state Senate by 51%-49% in an open-seat race.

Under Wisconsin’s recall law, elected officials must have served at least one year of their current term before being recalled — thus exempting the half of the Senate that was just elected in 2010. With half of the state Senate up for election every two years, this meant that only those senators who were last elected in 2008 could be targeted for recalls. Both parties waged signature campaigns in all 16 eligible districts, targeting eight Republicans and eight Democrats, with the final result being that six Republicans and three Democrats had recalls triggered against them.

In order to initiate a recall, signatures of at least 25 percent of the number of voters in the previous gubernatorial election, within the targeted district, must be collected in a 60-day window.

Back in July, Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen easily won re-election in his recall race against a very flawed GOP challenger, after the party’s originally recruited candidate failed to collect enough valid petition signatures to get onto the ballot. Then last week, Democrats picked up two seats, defeating GOP state Sens. Dan Kapanke and Randy Hopper — but narrowly lost in two other races.

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